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The Art Of Balance

Light bulbs. Batteries. Motor Oil. These are all things that require changing, and there are clear indications when they need changing. Changing a brand, on the other hand, can include more complication and consequence. So, when do you change your brand, and how much do you change it? Should it be subtly refreshed or totally redesigned? Branding strategies are meant to guide the consumer in the direction of a convenient choice that fulfills a need, and, in turn, becomes habitual. And while habits die hard, technology presents new and interesting options to consumers every day, which begs the question – how do brands stay relevant? The key: innovating inside the brand.

For the sake of this segment, let us assume we’re addressing brands that have successfully defined their value proposition and target audience, became popular, and implemented a design to harness the power of consumer habit to form a cumulative advantage. (Take a breath). What’s a cumulative advantage, you ask? Stay tuned, as we’ll break this concept all the way down in our upcoming series. Essentially, it’s a competitive edge that compounds over time. However, advances in technology are challenging this tenet. Brands are being forced to constantly review their approach, delivery, and other strategic principles in an effort to stay relevant, while keeping their base comfortable with the brand they’ve learned to love.

Creating a great experience as a brand means staying relevant when our world is moving a million miles a minute. When your brand is relevant, it makes sense to your audience. The problem is, audiences are changing now more than ever – not necessarily the demographic but their preferences. Our behaviors change depending on trends and technology, which changes the way an experience is created and distributed.

Accessibility has majorly changed how consumers purchase, and therefore, has changed the dynamic of branding and the landscape of brand loyalty. Technology is the primary catalyst for change in branding. So, staying ahead, or at least with the curve as things change means increasing the probability that consumers will stay connected and engaged, regardless of their preferences or habits. When a brand creates a great experience that is contextual, nimble in the face of change, and continually valuable, consumers will keep coming back.

But how far is too far? Sometimes less is more, and a simple change to accommodate your audience’s need in a more convenient way involves a mere implementation of new technology to give your audience something familiar in a new way. We’re witnessing an evolution in branding that has shifted away from customer loyalty toward convenience.

I think back to my childhood. The weekend arrived, and I used to love to go to the video store to pick out new movies. There was something to the aesthetic – being surrounded by walls of cinematic history, exploring what seemed like endless options. People don’t have time for aesthetics these days. We want what we want when we want it. And as consumers, we look for the most convenient access. Enter Netflix. A reasonable monthly subscriber fee and a mailing address later, and the endless options are in your mailbox. Video stores, like Blockbuster, tried to compete, but the market was cornered quickly. And that was only phase one.

Phase two. Now, I wasn’t in the room at Netflix headquarters, but I’m assuming a very simple, age-old question was asked: how can we better serve our audience and improve the ease of access to our service? Answer: digital streaming. To be concise, I haven’t laid out the entire evolution of Netflix in a timeline. The important thing to note is this – they innovated within the brand. No logo change. No relaunch. No major design implementation.

Simple solutions. It’s easy to lose your brand identity when rebranding, and sometimes customer loyalty will carry you through. Consumers want to keep coming back. They want to feel comfortable, until comfortable becomes stale or inconvenient. Improvement is the remedy for indifference.

As A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin aptly state, when referring to Netflix in their 2017 Harvard Business Review article, entitled Consumer Loyalty is Overrated – “For customers, improved is much more comfortable and less scary than new, however awesome new sounds to brand managers and advertising agencies.”

An emotional connection to a product or service will always be asset to a brand’s success, but constant changes in technology have more brands consistently working to upgrade ease of access to their products, while maintaining the connection that originally attracted their audience. And therein lies the challenge. It’s easy to succumb to the thought that your brand may need more than a simple improvement, and next thing you know, the brand your audience has come to know and love is nearly unrecognizable. This can be a major pitfall.

The advent of the internet and advancements in digital media and technology have transformed how consumers experience the promises that brands make. They have also transformed our ability to shape and co-create those experiences and to tell millions of other people about our experiences – good, bad, or indifferent. But brand owners have had to face transformative challenges before. And the brands that pull through are those that do what they must to stay relevant, while staying true to the experience
they’ve created.

Such transforming factors have, though, never changed the fundamentals of brand building: gain continuous insight into what your customers want, understand how they want it, know how the purpose of your brand helps them, be clear about your promises and deliver them brilliantly.

Take IBM, for example. IBM does not sell computers any more, but its brand purpose is still driven by the same insight that Thomas R. Watson had in 1915 – that ‘information technologies would benefit mankind.’ Today, IBM speaks publicly through its advertising of a purpose to create a ‘smarter planet,” and they continue on that journey with technology in the sidecar. Sometimes improving your brand means trimming the fat to improve focus.

The best brands have adapted to the changing needs of society, not just to the individual needs of consumers in that society. In fact, they anticipate the needs of tomorrow’s society. Technology is the primary force dictating these needs. To stay relevant, brands must pay attention. Consumers have to trust you before they jump. But once they jump, it’s a brand’s job to keep them from landing and looking for the next leap. Innovating from within your brand is an impactful way to improve the consumer experience, when done with proper planning. Sometimes, that includes major improvements, and other times, less means more. Either way, fail to plan, plan to fail. Stay relevant, yet familiar. That is the art of balance.

No More Athleisure, Brick And Mortar, Made in China? How Fashion Will Change In 2017 (Via Fast Company)

The tectonic plates of the fashion world are moving. Here are four shifts to expect next year.

Change is afoot in the fashion industry.

We’ve already seen glimpses of how the tectonic plates in the fashion world are moving. In one of Fast Company’s best-read fashion stories of 2016, we explored how some of the premium U.S. fashion brands of the past—Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren—have lost their luster.

They’re losing ground to a new generation of direct-to-consumer brands that were born on the internet, including Everlane, Cuyana, M.Gemi, DSTLD, American Giant, and Vrai & Oro. These companies are offering something different from the flashy designers of yesterday: the insight into their supply chain and sometimes even a breakdown of their sales margins, providing the customer with a better understanding of the quality they’re getting for their money.

Over the next year, we’ll see how these online brands continue to transform the fashion landscape. We’ll see big shifts in brick and mortar stores, fashion supply chains, the athleisure trend, and the idea of value.

1. Brick and Mortar Makes A Comeback

Awesome online and in-store experiences give rise to the “super customer.”

When online shopping took off a decade ago, pundits predicted that physical shops would disappear. It turns out that brick-and-mortar stores have remarkable staying power, but their purpose has fundamentally changed as fashion brands try to figure out how physical retail outlets fit in to the shopping experience. “Brands are thinking about what the internet cannot give you,” says Katia Beauchamp, CEO of beauty subscription service Birchbox, pointing out that digital tools now allow you to come close to seeing, touching, and even trying on products.

In Beauchamp’s view, the one thing the internet does not provide is human contact. She predicts that in 2017, customers will increasingly visit stores to get curated experiences from shop representatives. For brands to meet this demand, they need to have well-trained staff who understand products inside and out and can offer personalized advice.

We will also see a rise in experiential retail, according to Michelle Cordeiro Grant, the founder of underwear brand Lively. To encourage consumers to spend time in their stores browsing their products, brands will get more creative, adding amenities like bars, coffee shops, and yoga classes. In other words, stores will become more like entertainment spots for people who share similar lifestyles and interests to spend time together. “There will be an emphasis on physical brand experiences that will enable consumers to engage with not just product, but brand ethos and community,” she says. “The main objective of this kind of blending will be brand awareness, but the scope and reach will be much more than what’s been traditional. These experiences will be leveraging what is happening with social and taking it offline.”

Direct-to-consumer luxury shoe company M.Gemi says that fashion companies that understand how brick-and-mortar intersects with digital will see the rise in the “super customer.” M.Gemi launched a pop-up store in New York earlier this year and found that customers who had a good experience in-store would eventually spend more online and return fewer products than digital-only customers. Similarly, digital customers who went to stores would purchase 33% more in-store than new customers. “The website and the store seemed to be mutually reinforcing,” says Cheryl Kaplan, M.Gemi’s president.

Now M.Gemi is making the most of these insights by opening additional shops and creating a more seamless experience between digital and brick-and-mortar. For instance, a customer will be able to leave a store and find all the shoes that she tried waiting in her online shopping cart. “This is just the first of many ways we’re experimenting with bringing these two experiences together,” she says. She believes these efforts will generate even more “super customers.”

2. We Finally Ditch The Term “Athleisure”

It’s just how we dress.

Last year, the “athleisure” trend became so widespread that the word was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The awkward portmanteau refers to athletic clothing that can be worn during leisure activities (i.e., everyday life)—a style kickstarted by Lululemon, creator of yoga pants you could wear to brunch. In the last few years, dozens of new athleisure companies—Bandier, Outdoor Voices, Alala—have entered the market, selling high-performance activewear designed to be worn outside the gym.

But ironically, just as the term enters the official lexicon, some say it won’t be necessary because athleisure has become so ubiquitous. “In 2017, athleisure as a concept will simultaneously cease to exist and be everywhere, as it is assimilated into consumers’ lifestyles and wardrobes,” says Denise Lee, founder of Alala. “I see it becoming less of a trend and more of a normal way of life.”

Gregory Lowe, the founder of Fitbox, an activewear subscription service in which Rebecca Minkoff has recently invested, concurs. “It is not a trend,” he says. “It’s a new way of life sparked by millennials’ interest in being stylish and comfy at the same time.” Lowe thinks that from now on, all apparel brands will be designing clothes with comfort and performance in mind, while the athleisure market will continue to become more complex. Some lines will focus on fashion and luxury (see: Prabal Gurung Sport and Cushnie et Ochs’s capsule collection). Others, such as Adidas’s line, will be primarily focused on using advanced technical materials.

Nina Faulhaber, the cofounder of the athleisure brand ADAY, also believes that customers are increasingly looking for high-tech garments they can wear to work. “In the post-athleisure world, consumers want the benefits of athleisure without the ‘I just went to the gym’ vibe,” she says. “Comfort and versatility will be hiding in everyday garments. The less of a spandex look, the better.”

This year, ADAY launched a pair of leggings that are designed to be worn throughout the day, even in professional contexts. Made of moisture-wicking fabric, they have a matte finish that does not look like nylon or spandex and have lots of useful features, including special pockets for your cell phone. One woman wore hers in a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Faulhaber says.

3. Value Matters More Than Labels

Customers are smart and want to know what they are paying for.

In 2010, Warby Parker and Everlane were among the first brands to make transparency a key part of the customer experience. They offered products at lower prices than designer alternatives, and emphasized the importance of quality through brand storytelling. They explained that by cutting out middlemen and selling through their own channels, they could save the customer money.

These days, customers expect to know exactly what they are paying for. Many upstarts that recently entered the market—bag brand Oliver Cabell, denim brand DSTLD, jewelry brand Vrai and Oro—have all adopted the direct-to-consumer model. “Quality and value are increasingly sought after, more so than specific brand-name or luxury-brand status,” says Karla Gallardo, founder and CEO of women’s fashion label Cuyana. “This is a new type of ‘value’: It no longer necessarily means low prices for low quality, but rather low prices for high quality—made possible by being direct-to-consumer.”

Gallardo believes that over the next year, companies that build their business model on making large wholesale margins will struggle to compete with this new flock of brands. Consumers are also losing interest in big discounts since they often come paired with lower-quality products. Gallardo says that brands struggling to survive in this shifting landscape—including J.Crew and the Gap Brands—will need to rethink their entire supply chain so they are making high-quality products with the best materials, then selling them at the best possible prices. This means not only being “direct-to-consumer” but also “direct-to-supplier.”

4. Made In America

More production is returning home.

President-elect Trump ran on a platform of bringing more jobs back to the U.S. by eliminating free trade deals. It’s unclear whether he will actually follow through on these promises—and whether Congress will work with him to bring them to fruition—but the fashion industry is already thinking about how such legislation could change their business. The majority of U.S. fashion brands have moved production to Asia, where labor costs are lower. But there’s been a shift in recent years as a wave of startups have chosen to make products in U.S. factories because it allows them to better monitor quality and take advantage of the most recent manufacturing technology. The possibility of higher tariffs on overseas manufacturing may prompt more fashion brands to follow the startups’ lead and head back to the U.S.

Bayard Winthrop, the founder and CEO of American Giant, a brand that makes all of its products in the U.S., believes that the U.S. government’s efforts to bring more jobs back by introducing tax breaks and benefits is only part of the solution. American companies need to be able to make products locally so efficiently and cost effectively that they are able to compete with foreign manufacturers. “The focus needs to be on fostering competitiveness,” he says.

To do this, Winthrop says that fashion brands need to reimagine every aspect of their supply chain, so that they are able to make a high-quality item at a good price. This sometimes means upgrading factory technology so that the machines are more efficient and require less human intervention. It might mean sourcing materials locally to cut down on shipping costs. “Brands that are nimble and driving change have much lighter cost loads and are freed from this accelerating downward pressure,” he says. “There is room for them to be responsive and innovative.”

The good news for companies committed to making products locally is that U.S. consumers welcome this change. They want high-quality products, which American factories often can deliver more easily than their Asian counterparts because of U.S. access to cutting-edge technology. According to the 2016 McKinsey Millennial Survey of 11,000 U.S. customers, quality was a top driver of purchasing behavior. As a result, the “fast fashion” model, which was fueled by cheap overseas manufacturing, is waning. “The more time you spend wearing or even just looking at fast fashion as a category, the more aware you become of the shit quality,” Winthrop says. “This idea of ‘newness’ is dampened by poor make. The signal change is that a growing segment is purely interested in quality, less is more, and owning fewer things.”

DSTLD, an L.A.-based denim brand that makes most of its products in local factories, has made the same observation. “[Customers] are looking at where items are made, how products are made, and the materials that go into each product,” says cofounder Corey Epstein. He says the brand has found that customers are attracted to its commitment to sustainability, zero sweatshops, and reducing the impact fashion is having on the world.

In the upcoming year, Epstein thinks that companies and consumers will both take a “less-is-more” approach to fashion. “More and more brands are focusing on smaller, more timeless product lines,” he says. “We’re not trying to make the cheapest white T-shirt, but the most well-constructed, best-fitting, softest T-shirt, at the absolute best price.”

 

Credit: Elizabeth Sevran for Fast Company

 

Movable Ink: Market in the Moment

The way marketers are using technology to deliver content with context is rapidly changing to improve user experience. Integrating dynamic content and contextual technology allows businesses to deliver a personalized, real-time experience to consumers.

Movable Ink, the global leader in contextual email technology, is on the frontlines of this revolution. When asked about the importance of advancement in contextual technology, a representative of Movable Ink stated, “Email marketing as a whole is becoming customer-centric. Consumers now expect contextually relevant email content that meets their immediate needs. As a result, more brands are embracing advanced contextual technology – like real-time behavioral and contextual targeting – to create email campaigns that cater to their customers.”

Partnership

SellUP as a Movable Ink Partner leverages a Program that inspires, enables and empowers both companies to drive customer success. SellUP plays a key role in Movable Ink’s client relationships. “(Our partners) often serve as the trusted advisor or the full-service arm of (our clients) digital program. Agencies like SellUP are able to bring their expertise and understanding of a client’s program to the best-in-class platform Movable Ink offers. Collaborating, we’re able to power innovations across each client’s digital program.”

As part of the partnership agreement, SellUP customers can utilize Movable Ink’s services in lieu of any setup fee or annual commitment.

SellUP recently put Movable Ink’s technology to the test for their client, swimsuitsforall. A major challenge retailers face when marketing to their database is the presentation of stale information. When presenting an offer by way of conventional email marketing methods, the recipient has limited time to act, and therefore, the retailer has limited time to convert. Movable Ink alleviates this concern by giving retailers the ability to include real-time countdowns for offers, change the creative, even after it’s been opened, and present alternate templates depending on the time of day. SellUP was able to have total control of swimsuitsforall’s creative to ensure customers would be presented with an offer that was current each and every time they opened the email. The concept is simple – no more expired offers means more converted promotions.

During a 3-day period, SellUP pushed out several derivatives of the creative, including relevant offers while removing promotions as they expired. The email creatives included timers counting down to the end of the sales. The final version of the creative that was sent out presented a “last chance” promotion, giving customers a final opportunity to take advantage of the offer presented.

The results speak for themselves. Using a segment of both buyers and non-buyers in swimsuitsforall’s database, SellUP conducted A/B testing, sending half of the list the dynamic creative and the other half a static email. Movable Ink’s dynamic creative did not disappoint, generating 30% more orders than the static email.

How It Works

agileMAIL, Movable Ink’s next generation platform, allows users to effortlessly build beautiful campaigns, featuring captivating imagery, live content, and a host of other marketing utilities. “Our product powers the most sophisticated email campaigns using CRM data, open-time context, and customer behavior. Our clients rely on Movable Ink to power a wide range of campaigns, and are using multiple features in each to create the best email experience possible. Customer success and innovation is at the forefront of Movable Ink’s business.” Their efforts delivered over 6.5 billion content impressions during Cyber Week 2016, alone.

An intuitive interface allows users to pull in personalized, live and streaming content directly from a public or authenticated websites, RSS feeds, or an API call. From the moment you hit send, the real-time experience begins for your consumers.

Users also have access to a centralized library of content and an arsenal of real-time email marketing utilities, including embedded video, local maps, weather forecasts, countdown timers, and more, making your emails a resource for relevant content to each consumer in your database.

agileMAIL also makes testing and optimization an effortless, yet meaningful process. Content optimization and enhanced targeting features based on time, location, weather, and other dynamics, takes the guesswork out of testing, and allows its users to stay focused and update their campaigns accordingly as their consumers interests, behaviors, and locations change.

Insight

Movable Ink’s trademark platform allows users to track and analyze factors like time, location, and device impact and influence email marketing engagement and results. Users can also view campaign performance and trends in your engagement funnel over a period of time, both aggregate and individual levels, and gain cross-channel conversion insights by setting up conversion indicators across email campaigns and the sites to which they are attempting to drive traffic. With agileEMAIL, you can monitor your campaign’s progress in real-time.
“Personalized emails receive 2.5X higher click-through rates and 6X more sales than those without,” stated a creative representative. “Let’s say that during the months leading up to Christmas your company traditionally sells $200,000 worth of products through email marketing. If we were to extrapolate the above stats, personalizing your emails could help you turn $200,000 into $1.2 million. Your mileage may vary, true, but personalization is one of the best ways to optimize your email program.”

What’s Next?

Movable Ink is always looking for additional ways to innovate within each customer’s business. “Driving greater personalization and more enhanced real-time experiences continue to drive stronger engagement on those communications. Looking ahead to how (Movable Ink) can bring in more behaviorally-driven content is on the radar.”

Since 2010, Movable Ink has powered 200 billion live content impressions. More than 400 companies, including The Wall Street Journal, eBay, Finish Line, and Saks Fifth Avenue have entrusted them to “market in the moment” and drive ROI. Their partnerships, with companies like SellUp, allow them to extend their reach and build mutually beneficial relationships across the email marketing landscape that continue to flourish and change the way you receive and interact with your emails.

Movable Ink was recently ranked No. 56 on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500™, a ranking of the 500 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences and energy tech companies in North America. They also debuted at No. 14 on Crain’s New York Business annual FAST 50 list, which features New York’s 50 fastest-growing and most innovative companies based on their winning business strategies, and most importantly, astronomical revenue growth.

For information, visit www.movableink.com.

10 Years Later – Ecommerce Is Back In Fashion (Via Startups.co)

A chat with Andy Dunn, the CEO of Bonobos, on better fitting pants, $100M in capital, and why men should embrace a world run by women.

Ten years ago, Andy Dunn was at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He was torn between taking a high paying job and following the lead of Brian Spaly– a classmate who was selling better-fitting pants out of the back of his car.

That company would become Bonobos, a promising survivor in an otherwise graveyard of so-called “ecommerce 2.0” upstarts.

Spaly and Dunn had a contentious falling out; with Dunn keeping Bonobos and Spaly going on to build (and sell) TrunkClub. Dunn is still plugging away with Bonobos, hoping to reinvent the way brands are built in an online world.

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He says he’s now confident that Bonobos will survive. But continuing to build it into a stand-alone ecommerce company is another matter. An even bigger challenge: Making it into a company that “means” something.

I’ve interviewed Dunn off and on since 2010, when he raised his first institutional venture round. I’ve seen him get distracted with building out ecommerce divisions and a women’s brand only to spin them off subsequently and focus back on the menswear core.

I’ve also seen him turn into a great entrepreneur and one of the few cheerleaders the ecommerce world had… well, before Jet and Dollar Shave Club’s massive acquisitions suddenly made the category look hot again.

He’s funded some 15 other ecommerce companies, advises even more, and serves on the board of three others. For better or worse, Dunn is all in on Bonobos and ecommerce generally. I caught up with him on a recent trip to New York and we reflected on his ten year slog. The following are edited excerpts of the conversation.

Sarah Lacy: You are ten years into Bonobos. How do you feel ten years in about this bet on pants? Do you still feel like betting on pants should be your life’s work?

Andy Dunn: The more I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs, the more I think it’s really, really hard to make something that is better enough for your company to ever really matter. The reality is that Brian Spaly did that. He made something better enough for enough people that our company had a reason to be.

A lot is made of the fact that we’ve done it in a new way with the Internet driven brand thing– or digitally native vertical brands to give a name to that ecosystem. Now every vertical has one to five of these up and comers.

But that wouldn’t matter. That wouldn’t be the story of Bonobos if we didn’t start with a great product.

So better fitting pants have been a conduit to create a better way brands are built. Without them, there’s no Bonobos, and I don’t even know what Warby Parker or any of these brands would look like if we hadn’t made that bet.

SL: Really?

AD: I was talking to Dave Gilboa (of Warby Parker) today, and he was talking about coming to visit Bonobos in 2009, and he was like “we are going to do this in eyewear.”  We had the privilege of building an Internet-driven model because we had  a product people actually cared about.

SL: And that’s the antidote to Amazon? That’s the only way you build something in an Amazon-driven world, right?

AD: Someone asked today at this thing I was speaking at, “What’s the most important part of the term ‘digitally native vertical brand’?”

SL: That’s such a business school term, by the way.

AD: It’s such a dorky term.

SL: It’s painful.

AD: It’s a totally nerdy term. My belief is you can’t beat Amazon by selling other brands. The only exceptions to that have been Zappos, Diapers.com, and Jet, two of which went to Amazon, and one was about beating Amazon and now has a shot because Jet was acquired by the only company that has a better supply chain in Walmart.

SL: OK, let’s talk about this, because we suddenly see that ecommerce….

AD: …It’s back in vogue! What’s up, now?

SL: …you guys have been so shit on for so long.

AD: I know

SL: …and now suddenly two of the big billion dollar-plus exits have been ecommerce, and that could be three if the rumors on Honest bear out.
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AD: Speaking of Honest, people are dishonest about the apples and oranges differences between building a brand and building a channel that sells other brands. And if you build a channel that sells other brands, your best bet is to sell to someone else.

That’s what Zappos has done. That’s what Jet has done. That’s what Quidsi has done. That’s ultimately what Zulily ended up doing. The only one that hasn’t done that since Amazon is Wayfair, and let’s see what happens. Fab is gone. Gilt? Gone. Hudson’s Bay?

One Kings Lane? Gone.

And I remember all these people saying, “Why can’t you grow as fast as fill-in-the-blank?” And I would say, “It’s a totally different business.” Selling a bunch of other people’s stuff is a low margin game that requires a lot of capital and ultimately, and it’s hard to beat Jeff Bezos at that.

Compare that to the idea that you can build a brand that is at its core digitally natively distributed. What’s fun about Dollar Shave Club is they’ve actually proven you can. Michael Dubin proved that someone would actually want one of these brands, and I think there will be more.

The only problem with the model from what I’ve learned is it takes a long time to build a great brand. I’m in my 10th year. We now have what could be a great brand. It’s not too good to be true. You have to actually care a lot about what you are making and put in ten years of heart and soul.

SL: And why is that?

AD: It’s the Ben Horowitz article: Nobody cares. Nobody cares about your brand. Just because you have a strategy for how to build it, and an idea for how the product is different. You have to find a way to tell the world. How do you get the world to care about what you are doing? That’s hard work.

And I actually think it’s harder work if you are digitally native, because you create your own distribution. We put our product in Nordstrom, and it’s been awesome for us. We’re now the #1 best selling chino in Nordstrom. Wholesale happened like that [Dunn snaps] but building a direct to consumer relationship is really tough. And the truth of the matter– if you look at people who have gotten to this scale– Warby, Casper, Bonobos, Dollar Shave, just to take those four examples– we’ve all raised north of $100 million in paid-in capital.

SL: Did you need all that money though? Or did you waste a lot of it?

AD: I think if I could go back, I could do it on less, but I don’t know how much less.

SL: It’s hard to know because so many mistakes lead to successes, how do you pull them apart?

AD: Correct. And I think a lot of that money was required to build audience, whether we did it efficiently or not. And so I think the better question is who has done it that hasn’t had to raise that much money, and I only have one answer: Tuft and Needle. That is the only digitally native vertical brand that has gotten to significant scale– I can’t say what because I’m not a founder there– but as an advisor to them, I can tell you that they are ridiculously big, relative to the paid in capital of the company. They invested $6,000, and they have an amazing asset. I tried to invest but they didn’t need the money.

SL: Ok, let’s talk about NastyGal, which was very much that story…

AD: NastyGal isn’t a vertical brand, so it’s actually a different [thing]. If selling other brands is apples, and making your own brand is oranges, NastyGal is a banana. Because what they do is sell other brands that are hard to find and build a brand identity around it and now they are trying to make their own brand. So NastyGal and ModCloth have the same strategy but not the same as either of those poles.

SL: So Bonobos is ten years in. Have you built a “brand” yet?

AD: I think we’ve build a brand that is known for fit and service and, maybe, fun in menswear. That’s cool. That will get you customers and a business, and a business that we think is now turning the corner into being an independent sustainable business. That was not evident [before]…

SL: …So you feel confident about that now? The sustainability?

AD: I have data about that now. Last time we raised money was July 2014. Now, what I want to do is build an enduring and an iconic brand, and that’s harder. That’s not about standing for the sum of the parts. That’s about more.

Think about Patagonia; you think about conservation. Think about Tesla; you think about sustainability. Think about Apple; you think about creativity. Think about Chanel; you think about unattainable luxury. The great brands stand for more than just products or services. I think this concept of what is happening with the male gender… who is contributing to that conversation in an important way?

So we just did a video with Jimmy Butler, who is an amazing guy. He was abandoned by his dad when he was 18 months old, a typical African American male story. Then his mom kicked him out of the house when he was 13 reportedly saying “I don’t like the looks of you.”

And yet, he found his way to college. He went to community college. He was not a particularly impressive basketball player for his first two years. He started to show some promise and was drafted 30th by the Bulls after his senior year. Now just a few years later, he just won an Olympic Gold Medal in Rio and is going to be the face of the Bulls and is just an amazing guy. He’s a tornado of positive energy and charisma and, for me, is a tremendous inspiration.

SL: So that’s what you want to stand for?

AD: I want to stand for guys who are trying to be like that.

SL: So you don’t want to be a “bro” brand?

AD: No

SL: Do you think you are a “bro” brand now?

AD: I don’t think so. I think we definitely had some roots there.

SL: This sudden resurgence in ecommerce companies getting bought… is it good for you? As a late stage company that at some point may need more money is it good that brands like Dollar Shave Club have an exit? If Honest sells for what’s been rumored, it will be underwater valuation wise, but that will be three $1 billion-plus ecommerce exits this year.

AD: I think it’s good, because I think we went through an era where there were so many ecommerce stories that were bad. And a lot of people were painting the sector with one brush.

And there was no other sector where there wouldn’t be nuance to the story. That wouldn’t be the case with SAAS.

If you look at ecommerce, it’s a bunch of dudes who make investments who don’t know the first thing about retail, and they are thinking the whole thing is just people buying stuff online. And the reality is there are very different strategies.

SL: A bunch of dudes, plus Forerunner’s Kirsten Green, whose first three deals were Bonobos, Birchbox and Warby Parker, and was also invested in Jet and Dollar Shave Club.

AD: Well, God bless her…

SL: She stuck with the category and has suddenly now emerged as one of the top VCs. You’ve gotta be proud? Happy?

AD: Proud and happy and grateful to have her on our board.

SL: She took the long hard way to be a VC. She scraped together special purpose vehicles to invest in companies one-off before she proved she could raise a fund. No big firm gave her a shot.

AD: She did. We joke that we grew up together [since Bonobos was one of her first deals.]

SL: You two have a special bond…

AD: …It’s more than business. She had a lot of naysayers for a long time, and now she looks like a pioneer.

SL: So what would make you happy in five years Bonobos-wise?

AD: It’s a different answer than it used to be. The answer used to be, ‘Hey, here’s my business plan’ or this is how big we want to be. Now I just want to be a brand that matters in the world. I want to matter. Because I think people have plenty of stuff. They have too much stuff. It doesn’t make them that happy.

SL: But how do you measure that? Because ostensibly you matter to some people now…

AD: We matter as a function of the fact that you get up in the morning and need to wear clothes. We want to inspire people, and I actually think we’ve inspired a couple of entrepreneurs because of our model. But I want our consumer to be inspired to belong to what we are building. It’s a really murky journey because you don’t want to be pedantic, but the Jimmy Butler campaign is the beginning of us having a voice on this.

I don’t want to compare myself at all, but when Steve Jobs came back to Apple and said “Think Different” and put up Mahatma Ghandi, it was like “What are you doing? I thought you were selling Macs?”

But he understood something important: That he wanted Apple to mean more than just a computer company.

When entrepreneurs start their companies they say all this stuff, they say things like “we’re not a pants company we’re a blah blah blah.” It’s like “No, we’re actually a fucking pants company.” That’s what we were.

But once you get to year ten, and you have a pants company and a shirts company and a suits company and an outerwear company, and you’ve reinvented how brands are build digitally and you’ve reinvented retail stores, because they don’t have to carry inventory, then you get to wake up and say “How did we actually inspire people?” And that’s what i’m trying to figure out. How to do that next.

SL: When I interviewed Brian Spaly in Chicago he talked about how efficiently he built Trunk Club.

AD: He was the first one in a lot of ways. He proved the multiple and the value of this in a lot of ways.

SL: Yes, to your point: He raised $12 million in equity and sold for $350 million. So should companies like yours raise as much money as you did?

AD: Most entrepreneurs are not as uniquely and creatively scrappy as Brian Spaly. I mean, he is a unique human being. Even when we were together under the same roof at Bonobos, he always had an instinct for fiscal conservatism. It was more of like a bootstrapper mindset than you normally see from people who raise equity capital.

Normally you are one or the other. You are either a bootstrapper, or you raise and go for it. And he’s a really weird hybrid. He’s comfortable taking other people’s money, but he’s really scrappy. I think there should be more entrepreneurs like him who say, “How do I build something awesome with $20 million or $30 million in capital?” But I think it’s usual. You have people like Sophia Amoruso (of NastyGal) who have nothing and then boom! They have a ton of equity, and it’s a new ball game. And then you have people like Michael at Dollar Shave Club who raised a lot of money in a short amount of time and built an amazing asset. It’s hard to find people who are in between. Spaly is a special guy.

SL: But for the time we live in, Dollar Shave Club has been conservative. It never had a $1 billion valuation, so $1 billion was a great outcome.

AD: I want to be really clear about this, we’re in our tenth year, and we’ve never done a down round partly because we never thought our business was a software company. I think the danger is retail companies thinking they are software companies, and they are not. You have to have humility. You have to build into you that. Just because you can raise capital at a certain price doesn’t mean it’s wise.

SL: That’s all well and good as a hypothetical but, have you ever walked away from a higher valuation because you felt it wasn’t right for your business?

AD: Twice. I’ve been through a bunch of financings. It’s more let’s get the best investor we can. Sometimes the best investor doesn’t have the highest valuation.

SL: Right now, we are in an election where male and female energy is very on display. As a male brand, how do you think about that? How do you want to represent what masculinity means in a time like this?

AD: So our brand is named after a matriarchal chimpanzee.
There are five great apes: Bonobos, chimps, orangutans, gorillas, and human beings. Bonobos, humans, and chimps have a common ancestor, and bonobos and chimps only split off two million years ago. They were thought of as virtually identical for most of history then someone realized they are two species.

The only difference between the two of them is they are separated by the Congo River, which is impossible to cross. And they have speciated slightly differently over the last two million years.

They look the same but they have one massive difference: Chimps are arranged in patriarchal societies and bonobos are arranged in matriarchal societies.
Bonobos have no violent conflict and no observed killing each other and in chimp societies there’s plenty of violence and chimp-ocide. And if you watch a bunch of chimps, it’s like Hamlet.  The number two and the number three chimp team up and overturn the number one chimp.

[Silicon Valley lawyer] Ted Wang at one point said, “If you want to understand men read “Chimpanzee Politics,” and I did and now I do. And what you see with Bonobos is if you put women in charge, men behave better.

It’s true: Men are just like women except women have better judgement, more empathy, and they are shown to be better entrepreneurs in a apples to apples basis. They are financially more astute. They are just like men, only a little bit better. And yet we live in a world where men weigh 1.6-times what women weigh and a couple thousand years of history have weighed women down because of that.

That’s starting to change. And the rate it’s changing is accelerating. And I believe, as I’ve told you before, the next 100 years will be referred to as the female takeover. And by “take over” I don’t mean “Run for the hills, guys!” I mean, “Your life will be improved by the ascendance of women.” And should Hillary win, we will have the first time in human history that the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Australia are all women. So we’re finally catching up to Pakistan.

 

Credit: Sarah Lacy via Startups.co

5 Major Email Marketing Mistakes

Making your email campaigns perform like a rock-star isn’t easy. So many puzzle pieces go together to have a high converting campaign. If you are a small business owner trying to take it to the next level, we have some advice for you.

First you need to make sure you have a solid email marketing strategy in place. Make sure you have goals in mind, such as trying to get more opens, more clicks or more sales. This way you can identify if changes you are doing are helping or hurting your goals.
Consistency is the key to success. You want to stay consistent with your sending frequency. Build out a content calendar to maybe send your messages on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and keep with that plan. If you send on another day outside of your schedule then tie it to a specific event such as a holiday or birthday email.
While, there are many posts on best practices on email marketing let’s talk about what you are doing wrong.

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Bait and Switch Subject Lines
Your subject line is your first impression. It’s true that creative subject lines will get you clicks. Even statistics from convinceandconvert.com say that 33% of email recipients open email based on subject lines alone. But, the user will be left feeling scammed if your subject line has nothing to do with the content inside of the email.
Instead use clear and concise subject lines along with content that delivers. You can keep it catchy, creative and fun but make sure your email content corresponds. Skip the bait and switch subject lines for something more credible.

Examples of Catchy, Clear and Concise Subject Lines:

  • 50% off – Start Holiday Shopping Now!
  • 3 Recipes Under 300 Calories
  • Presale Code Inside for the Holiday Event
  • Top 10 Lipsticks under $10

Not Keeping Your Data Clean
The data you collect is the bread and butter of your business. Without that quality customer data you cannot communicate with your potential customer. Letting bad data in your front door is damaging your email campaign more than you realize.
Each bad email lead that comes in, harms your sender score. Maybe it was a typo that was unintentional or maybe the fake email address was deliberate. Your ESP closely monitors how many hard bounces you get because it reflects poorly on your business and theirs. Too many hard bounces can get you banned from your ESP.
Having a layer of protection in place can help safeguard your IP reputation and eliminate hard bounces. It is recommended that you clean up your database on a quarterly basis and that you also check your data at point of entry. XVerify is a great tool that can work with your existing webform and check email addresses in real time. Click here to learn more about email verification with XVerify.

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Unclear Branding
Switch up your email templates, but make sure you don’t lose your brand identity. Keep the email header consistent across all of your templates. Don’t change your logo colors or placement. Keep a clear branding identity is important for your long term success.
Remember that in addition to your content, offers and advice it is your brand’s personality that connects with your audience. It’s been proven that losing your brand identity will increase your number of unsubscribes. It could even be one of the reasons you see an increased amount of spam complaints. Customers feel more comfortable when things don’t keep changing each time they open one of your emails.

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Not Using Automation
Why are you not using automation? It’s 2016 and automation is available, low cost, and helps streamline your business. Automation helps alleviate some work off your plate so you can focus on other areas of your business. But, if you don’t use automation correctly it can really kill your campaign. You need to have the right plan in place before you even get started.
Setup a welcome campaign to automatically send your new subscribers a sequence of emails to get them familiar with your brand. This is going to help build brand awareness and gain trust with your audience. Don’t immediately try to sell them something, first become their friend. Provide them with valuable information.
Pre-schedule email campaigns so that you don’t have to work on them last-minute. Setup triggers to send special content to people who have ‘clicked’ on a link in one of your previous emails. Use segmentation to help them feel like the information that you are sending is more personalized to them and their needs. Using automation will save you time, and increase your revenues in the long haul.

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Sending at the Wrong Time
When is the best time to connect with your audience? Probably at a time that works best with their time zone. You don’t want to just put together an email campaign to a world-wide list and say send it off at 3pm EST. You might get most people within the US responding but what about all those others you are missing?
You want to be able to reach people when they are active in their inbox. If you have already been mailing to your list for a few weeks, your ESP might already be tracking this information. Check with your ESP and see if they have any options on delivering emails based on the subscriber’s time zone.
Again, we would like to recommend that you set up trigger emails. These are best because you can configure them to fly out to the subscriber as soon as they take an action on a previous email.
Consider this scenario – the user has not logged into the inbox in a week. They find an email from you last week and they click a link. Suddenly you send off a brand new email and they receive it because they are already spending time in their inbox. This is going to improve your open rate and your reputation as well as your relationship with the recipient.

 

Krista Barrack is an email verification specialist at XVerify. She helps digital marketers improve email campaign success through data verification. Outside of the office, Krista also enjoys traveling, fitness, reading, and listening to podcasts. Connect with Krista on Linkedin.

The New Generation: Technology in Email

Email marketing is constantly changing – evolving to accommodate the newest advancements in technology. How consumers interact with your emails is changing, and we want to keep you ahead of the curve.

In this series, we’ll be addressing some of the latest technologies in email marketing and profiling companies specializing in each. Marketing is about real-time personalization. We’ll be discussing ways in which you can deliver a customized experience for each viewer from start to finish.

As people engage with your brand, on your website, in a newsletter or campaign, they leave behind information with each interaction. This information tells us about their interests and preferences. Here are some tools you can use to customize your emails, and create a unique, real-time experience for your target audience.

Dynamic Content

Dynamic content is a term for the aspects of a website, ad, or email body that change based on the interests or past behavior of the viewer. It creates an experience that’s customized specifically for the visitor or reader at that moment.

Relevancy is all born from information. Not just demographic and contact information, but saved information about the materials that have mattered to a particular lead or customer across their relationship with your company. That data then fuels the technology and set of rules that assigns the right content to the right person at the right time.

Companies like Movable Ink and Power Inbox are harnessing the power of dynamic content in innovative ways. Pull in personalized, live and streaming content directly from a public or authenticated website. Include a real-time countdown for a promotion. Allow your viewers to track packages within the email. Utilize location, weather, and other live components to deliver a unique message having each subscriber wanting more. In the next installment, we’ll discuss how you can leverage the data gathered from your interactions with your audience to deliver laser-targeted content to keep your viewers clicking through!

Take Action In Email

We previously mentioned including package tracking within the email. This dynamic feature leads us to our next technology – taking action in email. It’s a tall task to keep a subscribers’ attention. Why would direct them somewhere else if you didn’t have to? Allowing viewers to take action within the email not only keeps their focus on your brand, but it also eliminates the distraction of being redirected to a website, landing page, etc. Time is a valuable. And convenience is a discount. Stay tuned as we profile how companies like Rebel Mail are making things convenient for consumers with seamless ecommerce integration in your email marketing.

Subject Line Technology

The subject line is the first impression your email makes. New technologies provide some keen insight as to how you can make a lasting impression on your viewers. Think of your subject line as the elevator pitch of the inbox. You have a limited amount of time and space to captivate your audience. Not to mention the elevator is very crowded and noisy. You have to stand out. And sometimes it’s not a matter what you’re saying – it’s how you’re saying it. Virtual subject line services, like Touchstone, will simulate your database and test for open, click, and delivery rates. Companies like Persado and Phrasee take it a step further and recommend subject lines to optimize your open and click ratios. They employ algorithms that generate precise word combinations to inspire your audience to act.

Product Recommendations

Product recommendations can increase customer engagement and retention. To achieve customer retention goals, it is critical for retailers to engage their audiences through customized marketing content. Online retailers can no longer rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to email marketing, as today’s consumers demand a personalized experience. Instead, retailers must gather, analyze, and apply data from customers’ online interactions and purchasing activities to create messaging tailored to where each individual is in the customer lifecycle.

You can create an engaging buying experience and increase brand loyalty with the use of product recommendations based on individual customer’s interests and actions. By offering personalized marketing content like behavior-based product recommendation emails, retailers can see increased engagement and conversions, such as substantial open rates and ROI.

Triggered emails. Triggered lightboxes. Triggered data. It’s all about timing when it comes to recommending products. We’ll be exploring the features of companies like 4cite, Rich Relevance, Sailthru, Maropost, and Listrak, as we continue our discussion on product recommendation technology.

What’s Next?

As we continue to follow the evolution of email marketing, we attempt to keep pace. The details are important. So, what we’re going to do is break down each of the highlighted technologies a bit further.

Next up: A Deeper Look At Dynamic Content.

Send Email More By Sending Less Email (Part 2)

Last time in Part 1, we covered the when and the who of a successful email marketing strategy — who should make up your groups and segments, and when they should each receive your expertly curated targeted messages. Now, we fill in the rest of the strategy puzzle and offer some tips on how to create the most engaging content to keep your audience opening, clicking and buying.

 

Short and Sweet

 

Detailed promotions and aggressive timelines? No, short messages and sweet imagery! Perhaps a cliché idiom, but it works. Your goal is building your brand, cultivating a loyal audience, and intriguing that audience just enough to open your emails on a regular basis — which, in turn, motivates them to buy on a regular basis. Soft content (i.e. flash sales and product announcements) won’t achieve goals like these without a methodical balance of true content (i.e. blogs and newsletters). Just like your soft content, keep anything else simple and keep it a little interesting. Aim to evoke some kind of emotion that instills your brand into customer brains for the rest of day, week or month until your next email floats through their inboxes.

 

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Deviating from the traditional product promotion or flash sale, which are great for impulse buys, email doesn’t only provide opportunity to show your expertise in other areas or engage audiences beyond one transaction, it also shows your customers you aren’t always selling and the brand has more to offer than just a good deal. The formula for success is as straightforward as the end result: great photography and product shots coupled with clean typography and engaging copy.

 

Best of Both Worlds

 

So, aside from selling (we know you already have great promotions and products to share), what does a successful email content strategy aim to do? Inspire? Motivate? Engage? Promote? All of the above! Create an editorial calendar that systematically balances your promotions and a mix of the below content categories that accurately speaks to your segments. Send your target segments something they don’t have to buy, but will still find useful. Of course, you can always promote sales, whether it’s a strong CTA banner ad or blanket offer at the bottom, just as long as the main content remains innovative and plugs your brand in a variety of ways over time.

 

PRO TIP: When using a CTA for complex buys with multiple steps (like a computer or camera) use “Click for More Info” for complex buys, as customers are less likely to make impulse buys on a complex purchases, but they will be interested in learning more.

 

 

Personalized Letters

Whether it’s a designer or the president of the company, everyone still loves receiving an old fashioned letter. Pictures always stand out, but the occasional expert advice or insider’s tip goes a long way for a loyal follower. These types of emails, along with a personalized subject line (example: “A Special Message from President Joe Smith”), achieve 2x the open rates compared to other types. Like everything in life, if emailed too often, letters lose impact and may increase unsubscribe rates. If used at the right pace, however, SellUp clients see 20-40% increases in CTR and sales when implementing letter-focused emails.

 

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Notes of Apology and Appreciation

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to make a mistake to say “sorry”. The unexpected apology goes quite a much longer way. Imagine a subject line of “We’re Sorry…” followed by a body headline explaining “…Summer is Gone, but Here’s What We Have for Fall!” This kind of slightly tricky promotional effort results in open rates and sales increases of 25-30%. On the flip side, saying “Thank You” in a subject line increases open rates by at least 20%. Admittedly, don’t we all love being appreciated and acknowledged? Your customers will, too.

 

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Newsletters

This is really the time for your brand and culture to shine. Share back what your fans have been asking and saying on social media. Post stories and inspirational snippets about your official, and unofficial, brand ambassadors. Or write about your industry, in general. A children’s clothing brand may have some great tips for keeping cool in the summer. A shaving product company may know a couple travel hacks for keeping fresh and clean abroad. Make content light, easy to read and relevant to your audience.

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Creative Promotions

Whimsical, cute, humorous — decide what tone aligns with your brand and craft your emails so they both represent that unique voice and create a bond between you and your customers. Make the audience excited for your emails, make them wonder “What joke [or inspirational quote] do they have for me this week?” And, don’t forget about all the ready-to-go user-generated content from your social media platforms. Host some contests or brand building exercises with your followers and schedule in a time to use those pictures, stories and posts throughout your email campaigns.

 

PRO TIP: Crafting campaigns around primary, secondary and tertiary holidays can also serve as a great base for your editorial calendar. Use them to both give your calendar the right cadence of flash sales, and as clever subject lines and eye catchers that encourage more clicks.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Pigeonholing your brand into an endless promotional box doesn’t do your products or your customers any favors. Strategize what exactly your segments respond to, then spice it up, change it up, and always strive for uniqueness — maybe using the occasional cliché or idiom along the way.
Have you found a certain type of content that keeps your customers opening, clicking and buying? Or, are you stuck and need some help crafting your voice and strategizing your calendar? Let us know what’s working, and not, and we’ll help optimize and maximize your content and clicks!

Optimizing the Email Experience (Via Website Magazine)

Most digital enterprises routinely underperform in one very important digital area – email.

What many brands don’t realize is that email can be the connective tissue between all marketing and customer experience initiatives. Those who avoid its regular use, however, do so at their own peril.

If enterprises are serious about ‘Net success, then now is the time to optimize the email experience. In this month’s feature article, let’s take a look at the email ecosystem and help prepare your brand for a better response from future campaigns.

Making The Case for Email Today

One of the many reasons that email has become such a virtual workhorse for brands is because it is possible to customize each and every experience and know an incredible amount about the performance of campaigns down to the user level. Not only do we know what type of content is driving action and when the optimal moments are to generate engagement, but we also know how users are accessing the emails that brands send, providing a powerful opportunity to optimize the entire experience (and improve) in the future.

In a report released by VentureBeat last year, 84 percent of marketers said email is important or critically important for loyalty. Similar high percentages show how important it is for sales, retaining customers and lead generation. The result? Fifty percent of marketers anticipated their company’s spend on email to increase during 2015 according to the Direct Marketing Association.

If marketers need more convincing that email is a vital marketing channel, Website Magazine has put together a special supplement online (wsm.co/emailstats16), which provides access to numerous data points that highlight the power of email and the investment marketers are making in its optimization.

The potential of email, however, often outweighs the performance. Recent MailChimp research revealed that open rates vary between 17 and 26 percent, with click-through rates ranging anywhere from 1.3 percent for restaurants to 5.36 percent for those in the hobby industry (everyone else fell between that range with the average click through-rates somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 percent). That all amounts to far less activity with brand messaging than many senders anticipate. Like other promotional channels online (search, social, etc.), of course, email is evolving and it benefits marketers to know how if they want to better optimize its use.


Email Revenue Strong, Data Access Not So Much

Email still generates the highest revenue of all marketing channels according to a recent survey from MessageGears. Discover more about how satisfied companies are with various aspects of their email marketing program and how they are executing campaigns today at wsm.co/messagegears.


The Trend Toward Mobile

The one trend that dominates the headlines when it comes to email (as well as other channels) is, you guessed it, mobile. Over the course of 2015, according to the Litmus State of Email Report for 2016, mobile opens increased by 17 percent and now represent 55 percent of email opens (iPhone leads with 33 percent of mobile opens, with Android at 10 percent). Web-based email opens decreased 13 percent consequently, while desktop decreased by 17 percent.

As any good Web professional will attest, that means concentrating efforts on design and the experience that results. The nuances of mobile email design can be complex. With so many different mobile devices, it becomes essential to follow some best practices to ensure you start out on the right virtual foot (discover some key considerations for mobile email design at wsm.co/emaildev).

Once the case has been made for email, it’s time for brands to turn their collective attention to the more serious matters of email optimization.

Forming a Strong Technical Foundation

When it comes to email, reputation is everything. The better that senders treat their recipients, and the more trustworthy they position themselves before the Internet service providers (ISPs), the better chance they will have to see their messages arrive at their destination – the inbox. And the best part is that by following just a few simple practices and understanding how it (delivery) all works, optimization and improvement of email campaign is most certainly achievable.

If senders want recipients to open their email, they have to get past the spam filters first. That means avoiding some practices and adopting others (primarily related to design as well as reputation). Spam filters are somewhat rudimentary but use a long list of criteria (access a detailed list of variables at wsm.co/spammylist) when making their assessment (the spam score). If the score exceeds a certain threshold, emails get flagged as spam and end up in the junk folder.

OPTIMIZING DELIVERABILITY

New research from Return Path reveals that just 79 percent of legitimate commercial emails worldwide reach their intended target with the remaining ending up in spam folders or blocked entirely.

Email marketers in the U.S. are not exempt, experiencing below-average inbox placement, with just 73 percent of messages reaching subscribers – six percentage points below the global average. U.S. inbox placement was relatively strong in Q2 and Q3 2015 (78 percent and 80 percent, respectively), however, but dropped below 70 percent in the first half of 2016. Brands are waking up to deliverability issues and solutions are emerging to help curtail the problem.

Data solutions provider Return Path, for example, announced the next generation of its “Certification” solution, which will enable email senders to join a certified whitelist based on their sending domain’s reputation. According to Return Path, Certification provides an average lift of 18 percent in overall placement. While Return Path’s existing IP address-based whitelist caters to large enterprise senders, the new Domain Certification solution will extend the benefits of Certification to small and mid-sized senders on shared IP addresses.

Adding Domain Certification will also benefit senders that already have certified IP addresses by giving them greater flexibility to monitor their email streams. With a strong technical foundation established, enterprises should turn their attention to other aspects of optimizing the email experience.

The Art of Acquisition

It doesn’t take a digital genius to see that email marketing remains one of the most powerful and effective ways to increase any number of important indicators of performance – from unique visits to revenue and ultimately growth. The benefits of having a large email list are immense of course, but getting to that point is challenging for those just starting out. Many simply don’t really realize the investment of effort and creativity (not to mention time and money) required to grow an email list and what it takes to acquire the email addresses of those potentially interested in a brand and its products and services. It’s not just the cost of sending but all the digital bells and whistles as well, such as the variety of testing and optimization solutions or personalization features that can be added on. That makes it more important than ever to optimize what can be controlled – from the forms being used, to the incentives for subscribing as well as determining what headlines and calls to action work best. Let’s explore some of the acquisition methods being used by ‘Net professionals today.

+ EXIT-INTENT POPUPS: A majority of first-time visitors will exit a website after their initial visit. By using an exit-intent popup, marketers have one final chance to make their case for the visitor to subscribe. While many consider them over-used and annoying they do work quite well as they are true attention grabbers.

The trick with exit-intent pop-ups is to ensure that the benefit being provided is clear and concise, worthy of the attention of readers. For some inspiration, visit wsm.co/5notsofastto find some well executed exit-intent popups.

+ TIME-TRIGGERED LIGHTBOX: Interrupting a user as they are in the process of leaving a site may not always be the best fit depending on an audience. Those looking for an effective alternative may want to consider a lightbox with controls over when the popup should display. For example, perhaps a marketer could elect to trigger a lightbox with a subscription offer when the user is on a site for a specified amount of time or upon arrival at the second page of their session. It’s less intrusive (as the user has shown some level of interest) and can be as effective as any other means to acquire subscribers.

+ EMBEDDED FORMS: Perhaps the most common method to acquire subscribers is that of the embedded form. All email marketing service providers (as well as marketing automation and customer relationship management systems) provide embedded forms to help their clients acquire subscribers, but even the best executed forms can fall short in terms of catching users’ attention. The best practice is to use a form with high contrast to the background of the site (so that it stands out) and use a catchy and compelling headline to capture interest.

+ STATIC/STICKY FOOTER/HEADER BARS: One of the newer approaches to email subscriber acquisition is to show the subscription area in a fixed (static) position so that it is always in the user’s field of vision. Subscription bars can be placed at the bottom or top of a Web page and perform quite well on average depending on the size, location and other factors. Adding subscribers and recipients is important, but planning for success is what will matter most in the future.


Email Workflow Matters

Litmus and Movable Ink teamed up to create an infographic – wsm.co/emailflow – on how to optimize a marketer’s email workflow and offers some sound advice for every serious sender.


Long-Term Email Success Strategies

Email is a powerful tool in the digital marketing toolbox, but like most other promotional mechanisms, it can be misused and abused by brands. With an eye to the future, however, and a commitment to ensuring a useful and positive experience for recipients (the audience of users being sent email) it is possible to ensure a greater level of success over the long term. Let’s take a look at a few of the “best practices” that should be leveraged by email marketers and the enterprises that employ them.

+ DOUBLE OPT-IN: It’s the simplest way to ensure those who marketers are sending to actually did request communication. Double opt-in is essentially a two-step process where a user completes a signup form and then receives an email that includes a link to confirm their subscription to the list. Using a double opt-in prevents marketers from adding bogus subscribers to their list, which can have a positive impact on deliverability and overall campaign performance.

+ LISTS: Some “experts” will argue that it is never a good idea to “buy” a list, but others will suggest this belief is somewhat naive. It can take years to build a substantial list. If marketers are under pressure to grow, sometimes the only way to do that is to get a head start. Lists often contain out-of-date and incomplete information, however, so brands need to develop a strategy that will weed out these users after the first or second send.

+ HONOR UNSUBSCRIBES: The beauty of technology, and email tech specifically, is that most of the work can be automated. It’s not necessary, for example, to remove each and every user manually from a company’s database as most email service providers offer the ability to manage those that want to unsubscribe. Many senders ignore this step as they wrongfully believe that a bigger list is better, but not honoring unsubscribe request can damage sender reputation and wreak havoc on performance metrics.

+ ELIMINATE INACTIVES: Perhaps the most difficult process when it comes to email marketing is when the time comes to remove inactive list recipients. If a user has not opened an email from a brand over a specific period of time, it’s unlikely they will in the future. It may be shocking to learn, but it is likely that well-over 50 percent of the average list falls into this category, which can present a number of problems; not only are companies likely paying to distribute email to those inactive recipients but ISPs keep a close watch on bounces and open rates. Brands should do themselves a digital favor and eliminate recipients who have been inactive for six months (no open, no clicks, etc.).

It’s not easy to follow these rules, but they do pay off in the form of better performance and stronger perception of the sender in the future. That’s reason enough to be in compliance with these best practices.

Up to this point, you’ve learned why email is important and many things you should avoid (or simply not engage in). Email, however, is a creative practice as much as it is technical and strategic and as a result, brands must also concentrate their attention on the content experience.

CONTENT EMPHASIS

The question most marketers have about their email initiatives is what content resonates most with recipients. The answer is relatively simple – the content that motivates them to take action. Let’s take a look at how enterprises can emphasize content and keep performance metrics rising.

+ Develop Hyper-Personalized Content: Use demographic and location data and target offers based on past purchase behavior. Doing so will encourage readers to open messages, click through to Web pages and convert.

+ Test Content Approaches: Use A/B and multivariate testing to determine which subject lines, content and images are working and worth using for future email campaigns.

+ Get Experimental: Consider the addition of video, polls or emojis in the subject line and measure the engagement that results.

+ Cross-Promote: Email is just one marketing channel so make sure to promote the availability of exclusive content within email on search engines and social media. Clearly, content is everywhere, and it’s getting personal in unique ways. Personalized email provider Bluecore and user-generated content (UGC) collection and management platform Olapic, for example, have partnered to help email marketers deploy more “authentic and personalized” campaigns. The partnership can enable marketers to include this real-time, relevant, socially sourced content into their campaigns without any significant investment of time or resources.

Billions of user-generated photos are posted and viewed across social networks each day, and Olapic’s platform will help Bluecore senders streamline the collection, curation and showcasing of that potentially engaging content to use in their campaigns, including those triggered by certain behaviors.

THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF RETARGETING

It is the responsibility of enterprises leveraging a practice such as retargeting to provide a path for these users (and users classified under any identified buyer persona) that avoids potential resistance points – like failures in identifying a buyer’s priorities, decision criteria and success factors – and supplements and improves the overall digital experience to achieve the conversion. Email retargeting can be complex, of course, so consider a rules-driven, multi-touch approach that speaks to each user’s unique situation and desired experience.

Establish a rule that if a shopper fitting a specific buyer persona has not converted in the past month, they will be served an email promoting new information or products from their most frequently visited categories.

+ On the second interaction, present content/offers on the homepage (or sidebars, footers or headers throughout the digital experience) highlighting recently viewed products, sorting products based on the shopper’s historical product price range or displaying info popular with similar users.

+ On the third touch, highlight the cart contents and remind the shopper of any promotion he or she might be eligible for, such as free shipping.

Even with the most powerful machine learning and artificial intelligence tools ever developed at their disposal, however, it is often still not enough to enable the majority of enterprises to optimize the digital experience if there is no formal plan in place first to surmount any potential challenges that arise on the user’s path to conversion.


Beyond Open & Click-Through Rates

Explore the many ways to measure email success at wsm.co/emeasuresmb.


THE EMAIL EVOLUTION

In much the same way that consumers are shifting their email consumption patterns, the email technology industry is evolving as well – and it is very much for the better.

Email and online marketing platform GetResponse, for example, recently announced a beta release of its own marketing automation solution. Marketers will be able to build automated campaigns using simple “if, then” logic, tag and score leads to build audience profiles, and access visual workflows in order to view the entire communications path, and even leverage tools to track and respond to customers’ e-commerce journeys.

Email service providers are becoming more than just platforms marketers use to hit “send” on their campaigns in order to communicate with their audience. Email marketing provider Campaign Monitor, for example, recently unveiled a new App Store and certified partner program, which includes tools and resources for partners and developers to build apps that work with Campaign Monitor including APIs, guidance, certifications and co-marketing opportunities. There is a seemingly endless lineup of technologies that marketers use to execute and track their email marketing efforts, and initiatives like Campaign Monitor’s App Store provide the best of the best to simplify and optimize the technology stack and this essential marketing channel for senders.

Who’s Ready to Optimize?

Email is an essential practice for today’s digital brands. By establishing a strong technical foundation, concentrating on the user experience and continually looking for opportunities to improve, brands can dramatically accelerate their ‘Net success.

 

Credit: Peter Prestipino for Website Magazine

Why Every Marketing Department Needs A Data Scientist (Via Marketing Land)

As innovative technologies transform marketing, don’t let your company get left behind. Columnist Benjamin Spiegel explains why data scientists are a critical component of every marketing team.

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Back in the “old days” (not so very long ago), if a junior marketer had a question, he or she would seek out the most senior member on the team — the person with the most experience who always had the best answers to the questions or knew where to get them. Their answers were backed up by their experience, which was a very different kind of data from what we see today.

Back then, agency experience translated into data points in a different context — not of metrics derived from ad servers or social media platforms or aggregation formulas, but the knowledge that accumulated over years in the business.

That data came from different campaigns, clients and strategies, from many dozens of client meetings and presentations, from witnessing the winners and losers over the course of a career. These data points might be measurable, they could be anecdotal, but they all added up to experience.

Today, that scenario looks a bit different on the exterior, but it’s essentially the same. That’s because, with the evolution of digital media and the rise of technology, it is often no longer the case that the person with the most seniority knows “best.”

Data = Power

In today’s marketing world, the power and knowledge often lie with the person with the best data access and deepest understanding of that information.

For many “old timers” who grew up in traditional advertising — even those who were around at the dawn of digital — this can be a tough reality to accept.

As an example, I have been working in digital marketing since before the internet; I was there for the first search ad and have been running search campaigns long before the days of Google and its million algorithm updates. By all assumptions, I should know how to write the perfect search ad and pinpoint which targeting methods will deliver the best conversions.

Unfortunately, quite the opposite is true.

At our agency, the best search recommendations are coming not from senior leaders but from a 20-something-year-old data scientist. She does not know what remarketing lists are or what AltaVista was, and never heard the painful noise of a 28k dial-up modem.

But when I ask her what search copy works best for 40-year-old golf enthusiasts during the weekend on a post-game day, she knows. When I ask her what time of day is best for selling shampoo to teenagers, she knows — even though she has never logged into the AdWords interface or attended a single SMX session.

She knows these valuable tidbits because as one of our data scientists, she has access to every ad we have ever run and every interaction for each client. She is connected to, and consuming all of, the publicly available data, from Google Trends to ComScore to Rentrak.

And she is not just collecting and storing all of this rich data; she uses it to create models that can analyze and predict consumer behavior — and drive better creative and marketing decisions.

Why Data Scientists Are A Secret Weapon

She and her team are our secret weapon; they allow our brands to not only spend their marketing dollars more wisely and efficiently, but also help our clients beat their competition.

It is for these reasons that — given the complexity of data collection, visualization and analysis, and the enormous quantities of information gathered across multiple platforms — not only should agencies have data scientists on staff to better serve their clients, but every brand’s marketing department should do so, as well.

Marketing departments should have their own in-house expert who can collaborate with your agency data scientist and draw connections between agency and client data. Staying on top of the media landscape today is becoming increasingly challenging, and more a data challenge than a creative one.

This is fueled not only by the increasing number of platforms and their distinct data sets, but also by the rising complexity of the data coming from the platforms.

No one can be an expert in every tool created to aggregate and analyze all that information. For today’s marketers to stay ahead of the competition and not spend their days learning every new data solution that comes to market or analyzing hundreds of new metrics, they need to leverage the expertise of data scientists for winning results.

Some of our clients have already invested in their data science capabilities, and we have seen a huge improvement in their advertising’s effectiveness, as well as their ability to work more cohesively with their agencies and media platforms.

At this point, we all need our expert interpreters, the data scientists who will get us all speaking the same language — and drive more targeted campaigns and meaningful conversations not only between brands and their consumers but with their agencies, as well.

 

Credit: Benjamin Spiegel for Marketing Land

Sailthru Modernizes The RFP Approach

 

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At SellUp, we’ve seen email experience a renaissance as retailers recognize that it is no longer a standalone channel, rather a part of a complete retention strategy capable of delivering significant revenue. But the Request for Proposal documents used to select email service providers have lagged behind, and are not equipped to evaluate for innovation or continuous advancement.

In “The Modern Email Marketing RFP: A Guide for Internet Retailer Top 1,000,” our partner Sailthru helps retention-focused retailers like you modernize the RFP approach by identifying four core areas the email RFP must be overhauled, and included the new, modern questions to use in your own RFP. We encourage all of our customers to download this email RFP scorecard to use during your own RFP process to help:

  • Rank vendors across all key criteria areas outlined in the RFP guide
  • Keep specific scores organized, to easily weigh pros and cons of vendors
  • Apply objective, formula-driven decisions to your RFP process
  • Share with colleagues and stakeholders to build buy-in/provide rationale for vendor selections
If you’re interested in hearing more about our partnership with Sailthru or ways they can help your business-feel free to get in touch!